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Sabah facing shortage of cooking oil August 23, 2011

Posted by wong jimmy in Cooking Oil.
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by Free Malaysia Today

TAWAU: Smuggling activities in this strategic town on the border of Indonesia, a mere 20 minutes boat ride away, hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. But when essential items become hard to find, especially during a festive period, expect some fireworks.

Boat traffic from this town to the Indonesian half of Pulau Sebatik has increased dramatically during this fasting month of Ramadan in the run-up to the Hari Raya celebrations at the end of this month and with it, the outflow of subsidized goods.

The situation has become such that consumers here are grumbling that low-priced food items like cooking oil, rice and sugar are becoming increasingly difficult to find in shops.

Tawau member of parliament Chua Soon Bui and Sri Tanjung assemblyman Jimmy Wong both said they were made aware of a shortage of the subsidized rice and a critical shortage of cooking oil in the state.

The shortage not only affects Tawau but reached as far as the west coast of the state as well as to Semporna, Kunak and Lahad Datu.

Chua said she had visited several stalls and sundry shops here and was told that the supply from the wholesaler had been reduced significantly.

The Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry says that Sabah gets 6,000 metric tons of subsidized cooking oil per month which is more than sufficient for the local market.

However, a good portion of it is obviously disappearing.

Surge in population

Chua, who is also the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) vice-president, said she was informed that 39 outlets had been licensed to distribute the commodity and there should not be any shortage.

It would indeed be ironic if Sabah which produces 35% of the country’s CPO (Crude Palm Oil) is facing a shortage.

Apart from smuggling, Chua believed that part of the problem also lied in the failure by the ministry to acknowledge the surge in population of the state to 3.12 million, excluding its foreign workers and illegal immigrants.

“I urge the ministry or MPOB (Malaysia Palm Oil Board) to increase the quota for Sabah as at the moment the monthly supply can provide about two kilograms of subsidized cooking oil per person per month which is not enough,” she said.

Enforcement agencies have so far proven toothless in their bid to curb smuggling of subsidized oil especially the most sought after one-kilogram plastic packets.

She said she was shocked when told by a manager of a leading supermarket here that street children are being used by black-marketeers to make multiple purchases of 1kg cooking oil packets “as only one packet is allowed per person and they keep coming in and out of the supermarket to buy until the shelf is cleared and wait until the supermarket replenishes the stock before they start again”.

Smugglers making profit

Jimmy Wong who is also the Sabah DAP chairman, said he and party secretary Edwin Bosi took time to check outlets in Tawau to verify the complaints that subsidized cooking oil was hard to get.

“It is confirmed … oil palm-based cooking oils are not found on the shelves of supermarkets and smaller village mini-markets. What we saw are only expensive cooking oils from soya bean and corn which the low-income group cannot afford,” he said.

“We were told that supplies are inadequate. For example a wholesaler said that he now receives about 296 cartons of 17kg/carton cooking oil (5,032 kg) as opposed to the usual 34,000 kg (2,000 cartons) before. The retailers are unhappy and we (wholesalers) are also unhappy,” he said.

Wong said it was troubling to note that the main beneficiaries are the foreigners who buy the subsidized goods and smuggle it out for resale in Indonesia. The price of subsidised cooking oil, about RM2.70 per kg in Sabah, is sold at RM5.00 per kg in Indonesia.

He said shopkeepers want the government to find a solution on how to sell these subsidised goods so that it will benefit the targeted group of Sabahans.

“They must also investigate if smuggling of subsidised commodities is rampant,” he said adding that he was asked to bring up several matters affecting the business community at the next state assembly sitting.

“People want to know the reason why we are facing a cooking oil shortage when our land is basically covered with oil palm. There is speculation that the subsidy has not been paid to the refineries,” he said.

Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism deputy minister Tan Lian Hoe has gone on record to state that there is no shortage and even went to the extent of saying that the people could even bathe in the stuff and there would be more to spare.

“I say she is very wrong and should personally come and see the situation,” said Wong.

Sabah has the largest planted area of oil palm in the country. It covers over a million hectares and earned, according to a recent report, RM13.56 billion from 5.136 million metric ton of crude palm oil in 2010.

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